French Language Blog

Forced To Pull Your Hair – French Expression For Poor Explanations Posted by on Jun 21, 2019 in Vocabulary

The hardest part about taking care of les cheveux (your hair) in French is not le shampooing (shampoo). At least, that’s not the only French lesson hiding in your hair!

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

It always surprises me how often people use une expression (an expression, an idiom) without realizing how it’s nearly impossible to understand what it means by understanding the words. When I first heard C’est dans la poche (It’s in the pocket), the look my face made it incredibly clear nothing about la phrase (the sentence) made sense to me.

At the same time, even if la phrase makes no sense, it can be easy to understand what’s being said within the context of the conversation. With new words and le vocabulaire (vocabulary) the process of learning from context is even easier. It’s like putting in the last piece of a puzzle in the right spot, the rest of the picture makes it obvious.

Cela dit (that said), when it’s a bunch of words in the form of une expression, the entire puzzle is jumbled up and the box with the complete picture is nowhere to be found!

That mixed up jigsaw puzzle may seem impossible at first, but just like with les expressions, le contexte (the context) can clear up where the pieces need to be placed.

Par exemple (for example), one time à l’univeristé (at college), I was giving a presentation that I was not the most prepared for and  mon professeur (my teacher) was politefully listening. At least until the end when it came time to ask questions:

Mais je comprends pas, John ! C’est quoi la logique derrière tout ça ?
But I don’t understand, John! What’s the logic behind all that?

Le vrai problème (the real problem) was I hadn’t thought everything through as well as I should have. I didn’t want to admit that during un exposé (a presentation) though. So I gave a sloppy explanation to which mon prof bluntly asked:

Donc tu as une raison pour avoir choisi ces exemples ou c’est juste tiré par les cheveux ?
So you have a reason for choosing these examples or it’s just pulled by your hair?

I had absolutely no idea what the connection between being pulled by your hair and my obvious floundering explanation was, but it was still obvious what mon prof was asking. They wanted to know the reasoning behind my examples and whether or not they were simply poorly thought out or worse, randomly chosen.

I poorly explained my thoughts, and heureusement (fortunately) I really had spent serious time thinking about la logique behind mon exposé, even if the examples were poorly chosen.

In the end, mon prof could see that my inexperience was more to blame than my incompetence and let things slide a little bit with a warning and a promise to redo the entire exposé at a later date.

I was embarrassed by the situation, but behind the shame I was also pretty excited about having learned une nouvelle expression on the fly!

If you’ve been reading carefully, you may have noticed I haven’t exactly given a translation for tiré par les cheveux yet. Ask yourself if you could figure out the meaning just from le contexte:

Est-ce que vous avez compris l’expression, tiré par les cheveux ?
Did you understand the expression, tiré par les cheveux?

Before giving away the answer, the last piece of solving the puzzle that was learning cette expression was making sure I understood correctly! So when I got home I looked up its definition and son origin (its origin).

L’expression dates back to as far as the 16th century, but beyond having written records from that time period, it’s not very clear where the saying comes from or why exactly it’s connected to les cheveux. Some suggest that it has to do with how pulling someone by their hair forces them to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, but there’s no strong evidence.

Voici donc une traduction de l’expression (so here’s a translation of the expression):

Tiré par les cheveux – Far-fetched, illogical, forced

Even though getting through the situation was awkward and I really should have prepared better for l’exposé (the presentation), I’m glad I managed to get a fun free French lesson out of my poor planning. Although maybe that’s just me trying to justify the puzzle after the fact, making up something a little tiré par les cheveux!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.